Christ with us in a world gone mad
When the storm rages around the world, what are Christians to do?
A little more than 100 years ago, the “Guns of August” erupted and the First World War ended the sensibilities of the 19th century, a century during which western culture and Christianity were virtually synonymous for many Europeans and Americans, in which cultural expansion and missionary efforts were identified, a century infused with a spirit of postmillennial optimism.
The 20th century saw the dissolution of old Europe and the beginning of the great ideological conflicts between liberal democracy, fascism, and Soviet communism. If the 19th century was defined by optimism and hope for universal peace, the 20th seems to have been marked by gritty realism and the determination to manage conflict.
Having triumphed over ideological enemies by 1989, some champions of liberal democracy looked for the return of the more sunny 19th century outlook. Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man declared the end of the great ideological conflicts. With Western liberal democracy the human race had attained the final, best form of government. “Ideological evolution,” or history, had by 1989, reached its end.
Recently I visited the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, where this kind of optimism is palpable. Sadly, such optimism can no longer be experienced straightforwardly. The library’s optimism—as warm and attractive as it is—has a decidedly nostalgic, even tattered feel to it. Fukuyama’s book turned out to be a very premature obituary for history.
No, the 20th century ended neither in 1989, nor in 1992, neither with the liberation of Berlin nor with Clinton’s election. The 20th century ended on September 11, 2001. Thus, while the 21st century was born even as its predecessor was, bathed in blood, its defining struggle would be different.
Where the 20th century was defined ideologically, the 21st will be (and is increasingly being) defined religiously. Indeed, the resurgence of religion in part explains just why the new atheists have been so popular: many in the secular West have been taken by surprise at the adamant refusal of religion to go away and they are looking for an explanation.
I write all of this to place some recent events in a slightly larger context. The civil war in Syria; the march of ISIS across Iraq (and its vicious persecution of Christians, Shia Muslims, and other minorities); Vladimir Putin’s cynical deployment of Russian-Christian nationalist rhetoric to justify his behaviour; the renewed persecution of Christians in China; the explosive growth of Christianity in Sub-Sahara Africa; the increasingly “religious” but decidedly non-Christian rhetoric of secularism; the examples could easily be multiplied tenfold.
Religion is back. And this is not necessarily a good thing.
Now, what does this larger context have to do with traditionally-minded Christians in Canada?
First, it should encourage us to develop a global vision. The Christians driven out of Mosul, caught in the crossfire in Israel/Palestine, persecuted around the world are our brothers and sisters. They have been given to us by Christ to care for. How can we help them? The parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 is wrongly read as a call to serve the poor in general. It is first and most of all a call to care for the sick, imprisoned, and poor who are Christ’s brothers and sisters. What can you, what can your church community do to help these brothers and sisters not only of ours, but of His?
Secondly, it should inspire us to local action. The persecuted church around the world can sometimes seem very far away, but it need not. There are lots of things you can do at a local level—pray; raise awareness, both your own and others’ (you can begin by reading Rupert Shortt’s book, Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack); lobby your MP for greater government attention to the persecution of religious minorities around the world; build bridges to other Christian communities in your local area, especially those that may have family ties to the persecuted church.
Third, we need to love in all things. Not simply what the New Testament might call “loving the brothers,” as I have described above, but also and further “loving our enemies.” Western Christians have not had full-blooded, up-close enemies for a long time. But our experience is exceptional. Our global family members know what it means to have enemies and have much to teach us about how to love them. We will need to learn their lessons going forward.
Finally, take the gospel’s call to “fear not” to heart. Do you remember what Jesus said to the disciples as He came to them, walking on the sea? “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid” (Matt. 14:27). What English readers miss in this translation is Jesus’ use of God’s own name to announce His identity: “Take courage. I AM. Do not be afraid.”
In today’s storm of global persecution, the fiercest storm the global Christian community has ever faced, Christ remains with us; we are in Him, and through Him, bound to each other. May His presence infuse all of us with the love and courage of the martyrs!
Tim Perry is rector at Church of the Epiphany in Sudbury, Ontario. He blogs about theology, religion, politics and sometimes the blues at texasflood.ca.
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